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From Vol. 5, Issue 11, November 2023

Stoic responsibility as a parent of teens

Practicing Stoicism || MEREDITH KUNZ

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Parental responsibility and Stoicism

It was my overwhelming sense of responsibility that drove me to find a new life philosophy. Riven by uncertainty and anxiety in a modern American parenting culture filled with innumerable ways to make mothers responsible for every fault or shortcoming in their children, I sought out an approach that could help me discern what is realistically my responsibility and what I have power over, versus what I simply cannot control or have limited ability to influence. I hoped to make peace with both categories, and keep a rational and compassionate head on my shoulders as I went about raising two kids in the competitive pressure-cooker environment of Silicon Valley.

This has not been an easy task.

A no-win situation?

It’s not just me saying this. According to other mothers I talk to, being a parent in recent years – especially a parent of teens – feels like a no-win situation. They share with me that they struggle to walk the boundary between doing too much and too little “for” their kids, between being seen as overbearing and controlling and being seen as lackadaisical and naive.

We want to help our kids and exercise our responsibility to them in healthy ways but our culture seems to constantly contort what is expected of us, so that we end up a twisted mess.

Making the best judgments

At the end of the day, in the spirit of Stoicism, what we always remind ourselves is that we have to make judgments in the moment as best we can, act on what’s possible for us, and attempt to stay aware of (and forgiving about) our very human limitations, and the limitations of our circumstances. Nothing will change the inborn personalities, temperaments, and cultural or societal influences on our kids. Nothing will change the “grind set” culture of their school, in my kids’ case (you read it right: that’s “mindset” but with “grind” substituted for “mind,” because the students feel they are constantly working day and night and competing to stand out, largely for the purposes of college admissions. All schools have their own particular culture, and many are to some extent toxic to at least portions of the students, in different ways).

What we can do: work to give our kids support and help them excel in the areas that matter most – growing their skills and interests, their genuine learning, improving their character, building their social support network, and encouraging their contributions to their community. And we can support their foundation of health and good habits, like sleep, exercise, getting outside, and all the basic things we should all do to stay well as humans.

How does Stoic thinking help?

How does Stoic thinking help? I use the dichotomy of control to temper my efforts to motivate and intervene with my kids as teens. I can’t control them, nor do I want to.

I remember that I want them to learn to be rational and pro-social individuals who are capable of questioning their impressions, and who do a well-informed job of giving assent to what is actually good (and a large part of that is recalling what is good in the first place). I also try to remember that they can make mistakes if it comes to that, and learn from them.

And me too. Like all humans (aside from those elusive sages), I’m not perfect, and Stoic responsibility gives me an appropriate sense of duty and of well calibrated effort. It does that while reminding me that others too can play an important role, including my husband and our family, teachers, mentors, and peers.

Being responsible for our motivations and actions

We can urge the message of being responsible for one’s actions and one’s motivations with our children. We can foster a family culture of healthy and honest self-examination. And we can try to do right, as best we can. Much like the Stoic archer, we certainly can’t control all the outcomes.

That’s the kind of thinking about Stoic responsibility that I hope will carry forward to the next generation.

Meredith Kunz is a Silicon Valley based writer. She is the author of The Stoic Mom Substack Twitter: @thestoicwoman